I tend to view myself as a smart leader.
In my personal dealings with people, in my mentoring of other writers and colleagues, and even in my own family I tend to pat myself on the back when I figure out some complex issue and provide a solid answer. It's a bit comical, though, because this act of self-aggrandizing tends to make me look pretty dumb. I might as well wear a dummy hat.
There is a better way to lead. I might not seem as "smart" but the payoff is that people will be more prone to follow if they can see you as human and empathetic.
1. Learn how to empathize better.
Smart leaders are often really good at making decisions, directing a team, and figuring out business strategy. They are not always as adept at discerning how people are feeling. I've lived this one. As a corporate manager, I could make wicked smart decisions about how to market my team and sell our services within our department, and I had some brilliant ideas about our team structure and vision. Yet, I could be dismissive. I didn't always wait for people to even finish a sentence, let alone finish a project. I could be a bit harsh at times, which damaged morale. I didn't realize that the one thing I really needed to give my team was empathy and understanding.
2. Listen with both ears.
I've met with countless entrepreneurs and leaders in business, and some of them have so many advanced degrees they need to use a bigger business card. At times, these leaders will listen when the employee is saying something worthwhile. That's one ear. Your other ear is for listening to the employee as a way to give them a voice. Too many leaders tend to listen as part of their strategy to appear interested and engaged, but they don't really allow their team to direct the company in a tangible way. This kind of responsive listening is even more important as we enter an age of complex office structures with remote workers and multi-discipline roles.
3. Become an active includer.
Active listening is a key part of leadership. What is sometimes missing is this idea of active inclusion. What does it mean? Imagine a company picnic with about 25 employees. A few seem engaged, a few have one foot out the door. A smart leader focuses on a few employees and develops those relationships. That's the established protocol for most. An even smarter leader figures out how to include everyone at least in some way. They even include those on the fringe. It's not easy. I remember leading a team of about 50 people and feeling challenged to include them all. Guess what? I needed to work harder. I needed to be more intentional about how I included people even on the fringes who seemed disinterested.
4. Kill the selfish ambition.
I firmly believe in servant-leadership. It's basically the only effective management style, one that says you are in the lofty position of running a company or department not because you have the most knowledge or have a family connection to a board member, but because you know how to motivate, address conflict, encourage, and promote others. You are the quarterback, but that means you stand behind the front line and let others do the hard work. Ambition is no friend to leadership if it means you are arrogant. Unfortunately, even smart leader soften miss this basic principle. They take pride in their quick decision making skills--and everyone knows it. A better way to lead is to temper that ambition with the realization that you are there to serve, direct, guide, and encourage a team to excel beyond what they can imagine for themselves.